What did they do to our Sunny Jay?

“Our house is on fire!” shouted the new version, Storming Jay, at a befuddled Joe Biden in this past week’s round of Democratic debates for president.

For those of us used to the eternal sunshine of Jay Inslee, who previously never met a sentence he couldn’t shine with some glowing adjectives, it was a reminder of how the crucible of presidential politics can shape-shift even the most known public personas.

“We cannot work this out. The time is up. Our house is on fire,” Inslee went after Biden, who was squinting at the governor like, “Who is this square jaw in the reading glasses?”

Later Inslee went full apocalypse.

“Literally the survival of humanity on this planet and civilization as we know it is in the hands of the next president,” Inslee warned the crowd.

The pundits loved it. Inslee was pugilistic. Inslee was manly. Inslee, warning of a world ablaze was … steaming hot?

“Horniness for Jay Inslee is a Renewable Resource,” said a review in New York Magazine, in which the authors were jolted into a swoon over Inslee’s “Clark Kent glasses” and how “he looks like a retired superhero who … can still lift a midsize sedan over his head.”


Echoed a writer for the women’s blog Jezebel: “My heart votes for Bernie or Warren but my body votes for Inslee.”

Jay, it’s not going to get any better than this. Drop out now?

Seriously, watching at home I also thought Inslee looked like a fine physical specimen, but he sounded, for him, oddly belligerent. It wasn’t just him; most of the candidates seemed cranky and scolding. Maybe it’s the reality show debate format, or maybe the bully in the White House got in all their heads. But the candidates seemed strangely hell-bent on one-upping each other with unpopular ideas offered up in harshly negative terms.

Some of them want to break up Amazon. Others want to decriminalize crossing the border. Some want to ban private health insurance in America, a deeply unpopular position, even as more government intervention in insurance becomes more popular.

Inslee goaded Biden, who was supposed to be the lovable moderate, into taking just such an untenable position. Biden answered “no” to the question of whether there would be “any place for fossil fuels in a Biden administration.”

“Joe Biden just said goodbye to auto and manufacturing workers, Pennsylvania, Michigan and the Midwest,” pounced the Donald Trump campaign.


One Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio, kept saying he would “tax the hell out of the wealthy.” His new campaign Web site, I’m not making this up, is actually called “taxthehell.com.”

No, no, no, Democrats. Even if your aim is to tax the hell, you don’t literally say “tax the hell.” It’s political suicide.

Take it from Barack Obama. He’s getting bashed a lot these days, but was quite skilled at this politics thing. In his now-legendary 2008 campaign, his signature plank was a pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class (which he defined as families making less than $250,000 a year). He mostly kept this promise, but more importantly for this discussion is what the pledge really meant — it was identical to saying he’s going to tax the rich. Only Obama flipped a threat into a happy positive (a pledge of no new taxes for anyone who isn’t rich).

See how that works? You don’t bash fossil fuels, you hype the opportunity of green forms of energy. You don’t ban or deride health insurance, you talk of more choices for consumers (like a public option) that, you say, will be better or cheaper than private insurance.

“I don’t think the Democratic candidates have developed the message and the language that can win the White House,” fretted John Judis, a liberal author of eight books, in a debate recap titled “The Democrats Need to Get Their Act Together.”

It’s only midsummer of 2019, more than 15 months out. In that sense, it probably doesn’t matter that much what they say. But I’m a liberal, and even to me they’re coming across as national downers.

So Inslee’s now Smoldering Jay, which … is better than being ignored entirely! But he and the rest of the party need some Sunny Jay back, too.

“Vote for me or the planet gets it” may be manly, but it won’t beat Donald Trump.